When Mele Kalama-Kingma became a mom, she said she had an “epiphany moment,” one that caused her to take a close look at the ingredients in her skin care products.
“I have a background in nutrition and I was studying about Hawaiian plants,” Kalama-Kingma told Pacific Business News. “At the same time my aunty had gotten breast cancer and there was an article that I read about the harmful ingredients in deodorant. I thought, ‘I know all about healthy food, but I didn’t realize what I was feeding my skin.’”
Kalama-Kingma decided to combine her knowledge of nutrition and Native Hawaiian plants to create her own products made with local, natural ingredients.
She shared her first product, a body powder deodorant, with friends and family and eventually brought it to the Made in Hawaii Festival, where she said she got her “big start.”
“I got a few accounts from that and a lot of exposure,” she said.
She named the company, Mamalani, after her grandmother, and soon attracted the interest of Mana Up founders Meli James and Brittany Heyd, who asked Kalama-Kingma to apply for their 12-week product accelerator program.
Mamalani was one of 10 local companies selected to participate in the inaugural program, which wrapped up in April.
Who is your typical customer?
Our typical customer is really health conscious, someone looking for a natural alternative and something handmade. We have a lot of people that are over 50 that love powder — that’s how they grew up, using powder. We also have the health-conscious moms and Hawaiians, families that are looking for a product that is safe for their kids and for themselves with ingredients they know they can trust.
It’s really me and my dad at this point. I have a few contracted friends — I like to employ my really talented friends. One of my good friends helps me with the graphics. But it’s just my dad and I right now for production.
How did you finance the business?
I don’t like asking anyone for money. I asked my husband if we could take our family’s tax refunds. That’s how we started. That’s a big commitment because you usually use that to pay your bills off. My husband is so nice. We probably put in almost $10,000 to start because I had to buy packaging.
Are you looking to hire? We are finally at a point where we have to secure more funding to increase our inventory. The only person I’m looking to hire right now is a graphic designer, someone to help us streamline some of our storyline. I’m trying to tell our story better through our brand, packaging, labeling — stuff that I had to teach myself in Photoshop. There’s a point where you can learn, but then it gets beyond your skill set. But that’s how you have to start off as a small business. You kind of have to be everything — a photographer, website developer and designer, unless you have amazing amounts of funding — you have to do it all on your own. After the Mana Up program, I realized I needed professional help. We’re at the point where we shouldn’t really spend all our time trying to figure out Photoshop.
Did you always think you would be a business owner? No, I never did. I went to school to be a dietician. I seriously thought I was going to work at a health center and counsel patients, help people be heathier. But I guess I am, just not in the way that I thought I would.
Mele Kalama-Kingma, owner